Cordless power tool sparks fatal hangar fire

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that some cordless electric tools can be hazardous in an aviation environment.

An FAA presentation describes a hanger accident in which a man using a brush-type cordless drill died in an explosion and fire when he loosened a fuel panel on a Cessna 414 from which the fuel had not been drained. It was not clear whether the explosion and fire occurred when fuel began to escape, or when the man attempted to replace the panel screws.

‘We can only speculate that maybe he was distracted and attempted to remove the fuel panel by mistake; all the underwing panels look the same on this aircraft and the fuel panels are not placarded,’ the presentation says.

Brush-type electric motors make and break electrical connections mechanically, and can produced sparks and electrical ‘noise’.

The FAA presentation stresses the need to use brushless tools certified as suitable for use in hazardous environments such as aviation. Brushless motors use electronic rather than mechanical switching, and thus avoid the risk of sparking.

5 COMMENTS

  1. ‘all the underwing panels look the same on this aircraft and the fuel panels are not placarded’ … but it was the worker who caused the problem by using an inappropriate drill and ‘made a mistake or was distracted’. Yeah right!

  2. Who else’s fault would it be? You’re not supposed to use electic tools on aircraft and if you do, please be smart enough not to use it near fuel tanks. No matter if you think it’s a fuel panel or not or if they are well identified or not, you never know if there’s going to be a leak or any kind of fume. You should know that it’s not a good idea to use a tool that generate sparks.

  3. After working for many years in chemicals Class one Zone one. It is not only electrical equipment which causes ignition. I see several systematic failures here that actually lead to the drill being able to cause ignition.

  4. Old cordless tool with brushes & commutators are spark generators, especially old ones. If your A&P has cordless brush tool, change A&P, he’s not keeping up.

  5. Whilst we don’t like cords & air hoses, convenience has risks; Air tools & hand tools are not obsolete. One should assess the risks, when tackling any job. Even fueling a hot motor mower is a risk & there has been one slow death locally here from doing that.

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